Behavioral reactions relate to adrenal activity and temperament in male clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa)

Heather B. DeCaluwe, Nadja C. Wielebnowski, JoGayle Howard, Katharine M. Pelican, Mary Ann Ottinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Due to strong intra-specific aggression and frequent adverse reactions to changes encountered in the captive setting, clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa) are particularly difficult to manage as a self-sustaining population in zoos. The aim of this study was to examine the efficacy of behavioral reaction tests in proactively assessing differences in male clouded leopard stress reactivity and temperament. If such tests can be applied to reliably predict which males show stronger adverse behavioral and physiological responses and increased aggression under stressful events, this information can be used for management decisions. Quantitative behavioral and hormonal data were collected before, during, and after a series of brief behavioral reaction tests, which included mirror image stimulation, airhorn, and exposure to unfamiliar people. Keeper questionnaires, validated through correlation with fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations, were used to assess animal temperament ('anxious' vs. 'calm'). Behavioral responses were compared with keeper temperament assessments and fecal androgen metabolite levels to assess individual responses. Results showed that differences in behavior correlated meaningfully and significantly with temperament assessments. During pre-behavior test periods, cats rated as 'anxious' tended to hide in the nest box more often (Rs=0.80, P=0.003) and lie down less often (Rs=-0.52, P=0.04) than those rated as 'calm'. Of the three tests, mirror image stimulation was the most effective in differentiating between 'anxious' and 'calm' cats and identifying potentially aggressive cats. Specifically, 'anxious' cats spent less time interacting with the mirror (Rs=-0.67, P=0.005) while cats with higher mean fecal androgen metabolite levels exhibited the more aggressive behaviors of growling (Rs=0.60, P=0.01) and tail flicking (Rs=0.54, P=0.03). Our findings demonstrate that behavioral reaction tests may provide a useful indicator of detrimental fear-related and aggressive behaviors in clouded leopards for management decisions. These data also point to potential behavioral neuroendocrine mechanisms that operate in captive felids and contribute to our understanding of the basic biology of these species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-71
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Anxiety
  • Behavior tests
  • Fecal hormone monitoring
  • Felids
  • Mirror image stimulation test
  • Stress


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